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Opinion

Reasons to embrace poetry year round

http://66.225.205.104/JR20081209.mp3

These days, poetry readings might seem a strange concept. Why would you give up an evening of watching The Biggest Loser or Dancing with the Stars to listen to someone read what you could easily read, and perhaps more easily understand, on your own? Nevertheless, poetry readings have remained popular since the ancient days of bards and minstrels. In any given month there are half dozen readings in the Charlotte area. And despite what most think, poetry readings are not just for academics in tweed jackets, neo-hippies in organically-grown hemp, and finger-snapping Beat Generation refugees. The last reading I attended had young and old, black and white, liberal and conservative, and everything in between. So, in the tradition of David Letterman I offer you my top 10 reasons that people come to poetry readings: Number 10: Extra Credit. It's true, part of the audience at every poetry reading consists of college and high school students who have been bribed by their teachers to attend in an effort to expose them to "high culture." Number 9: Curiosity. Some attend just to see what it's all about. Others because they know that poets, like most artists, can be a "curious" lot. Reason number 8: To Support the Poet. A certain portion of the audience will be family and friends of the poets who know how broke and desperate for support they are. Number 7: To Support Poetry. Some attend because they honestly love poetry and believe that it is important. Or, Reason number 6: To support art in general or at least seem to be doing the artsy thing. Number 5: Inspiration. A number of people in the audience will be other poets or wannabes scouting out ideas and taking notes. The Number 4 Reason people go to poetry readings is Entertainment. They may not be rock concerts, but a lot of what you hear at a poetry reading is entertaining. Traditional readings are kind of like a jazz performance with poets improvising on the text. Performance poetry and poetry slams include even more heightened elements of drama, comedy, and sometimes, music. Number 3 is Intellectual Stimulation. Understanding poems demands some intellectual engagement. And the voice of the poet can often help make sense of the poem in a way that reading it on the page alone can not. Number 2: Catharsis. Poetry is simultaneously emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. The movement of poetry - the speaking in fragments and making associative leaps from one idea to the next - is a lot like life. When a poem taps into that, reading or hearing it is an emotional experience. A catharsis. At each of the last 4 poetry readings I've given, someone has cried. I consider that a good thing. And the Number 1 reason to attend a poetry reading is To Get the News. Poems explore connections with and between things that are often overlooked. You read a newspaper to get the facts. Poems mine the timeless emotional undercurrents of those current events. William Carlos Williams said, "It is difficult to get the news from poetry, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. For that reason, above all, I hope poetry readings never go out of style. Poet Scott Owens lives in Hickory where he hosts a poetry reading every second Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse. His poems have been published in a collection titled "The Fractured World."